Descriptive Analysis of the Elderly Who Utilize Mental Health Services With Implications for Program and Policy Development

Timothy P. Mahoney, Augsburg College


The utilization of mental health services by community-dwelling elderly is examined in this study. The number of elderly in the U. S. population is increasing significantly and is projected to continue to do so for the next 40 years. Literature indicates that the mental health component of services for the elderly is strikingly underdeveloped and underutilized. Past research suggests that factors influencing this low level of service development and utilization can be found in the characteristics of the population as well as in the characteristics of the mental health care system.

In this study, data were collected on 62 elderly persons aged 60 and over who received services in a rural community mental health center in southeast Minnesota. Demographic and psychiatric characteristics are summarized from a medical records review. Characteristics of the mental health care system and issues pertinent to program planning for this population are presented, including a historical examination of service delivery, barriers to mental health care, and factors that contribute to mental health services that are more responsive and more utilized.

From the study sample of 62 persons, 56% were diagnosed with mood disorders, 1 4% with psychotic disorders and 8% with chemical dependency. A majority of the sample were in the 60-70 year age range (52%), 66% were females and 52% of the clients relied on others for transportation to mental health services